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Sanofi hit with China bribe probe

China state media reported Saturday that French drugmaker Sanofi SA is under investigation for allegedly bribing doctors to increase sales.

The Xinhua news agency said more than 500 Chinese doctors are suspected of accepting bribes from the company.

An anonymous whistleblower ‘told the Guangzhou-based 21st Century Business Herald on Thursday that Sanofi staff paid bribes totaling about 1.69 million yuan ($274,048) to 503 doctors at 79 hospitals in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hangzhou in late 2007,’ Xinhua said. 

The payments were allegedly labeled as ‘research grants.’

China authorities last month accused U.K.-based GlaxoSmithKline of paying $489 million in bribes to doctors. Nearly two dozen GSK employees and agents have been detained. One detained executive said in a televised confession that up to 30% of the cost of drugs was kicked back to doctors to increase sales.

Reuters said other drug companies have reported ‘visits from authorities to their China offices,’ including Novo Nordisk, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, and UCB.

Baxter International Inc. also said last week it had found improper expense payments by a China joint venture.

The Beijing municipal health bureau is leading the Sanofi investigation, Xinhua said.

Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Beijing was named in a media report but hasn’t commented.

Sanofi said in a statement that it took the claim “very seriously” and has launched an investigation, according to Xinhua.

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Richard L. Cassin is the Publisher and Editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.

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